How did Davey Martinez find out that his 21-year-old left fielder, Juan Soto, tested positive for COVID-19?
“I got a phone call from our medical staff this morning,” Martinez said after the Washington Nationals announced that Soto’s test from two days prior come back positive.
“And then we had to go through all this protocol. So, I’ve been on the phone pretty much all day trying to figure things out.”
The first thing they had to do under MLB’s protocols for dealing with the coronavirus was to trace all of Soto’s contacts over the last few days.
“We are casting a wide net,” GM Mike Rizzo explained, “... and at this point there is nobody else that is ineligible because of the contact tracing.”
Rizzo spoke before Martinez met with reporters in advance of last night’s season opener in the nation’s capital, and said he’d learned of the results early in the morning as well.
“We received the results early, early this morning,” Rizzo said. Asked when that particular test was taken by Soto, he said, “Two days ago, I believe.”
“He’s asymptomatic,” Rizzo assured reporters. “He’s following all major league protocol, and as you know, he’s been tested multiple times throughout the Spring Training in-take season and has tested negative on all those occasions, and so we will proceed when he has two negative tests and we will hopefully get him back on the field. So, that’s the major news of the day for the Nats.”
Soto, of course, quarantined during the first two weeks of Spring Training 2.0, after having come into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 at some point while he made his way from his home in the Dominican Republic to Washington, D.C.
The news, coming as it did hours before the Nationals’ 2020 season opener with the New York Yankees in Nationals Park, threw everyone for a loop, and led to the players who had contact with Soto getting tested again, which they had been by the time Martinez talked with reporters.
“They went through all the contact tracing, they said everybody else is good,” Martinez said.
“For me, we all got tested today, and I’m looking forward to getting those results back. And hopefully everybody comes back negative. That to me we’ll be reassured that everybody is good. So until we get those tests back, we don’t really know where we’re at. Cause Juan has been tested four times before this and they all four came back negative. So we’ll see.”
Losing Soto, for any amount of time in a 60-game sprint of a season, is a big blow to the defending World Series champions, though of course, his health and his teammates’ is a bigger matter. The loss of Soto is clearly a blow for the defending World Series champs.
“You’ve got yourself one of the best all-around hitters in baseball,” Rizzo said.
“A power bat combination, a good defender in left, and a middle of the lineup presence, so to say it gives us a disadvantage going into the game would be an understatement.”
Waking up to the news on Opening Day? Did it take away from the moment everyone had worked so hard to get to?
“It hurts,” Martinez acknowledged. “I woke up this morning excited that we were going to have baseball again, it is Opening Day, and then I get the news that he tested positive.
“I mean, It hurts. And like I said, it didn’t have to be Juan Soto, it could have been any one of our guys. And then reality sets in that, hey, we’re in the midst of a pandemic, and we’ve just got to be awfully careful, throughout everything. Like I told all the guys, I wear my mask 24/7. The only time I ever take it off is to maybe get a quick bite to eat, and I’m usually by myself.”
Martinez said he hadn’t spoken to Soto before meeting with reporters, but he knew that the outfielder was upset with the results in what’s been a trying month.
His message for Soto when he did talk to him, which he said he was going to be right after he’d finished talking with the press?
“For me it’s just, one is that I hope that he’s asymptomatic and he doesn’t get ill. That’s the most important thing, and two, right now we’re living amidst the pandemic, and we’ve just got to do the best we can to stay safe. And I know he did everything he could, it’s just one of those things. So, we’ve got to keep him upbeat.
“Like I said, hopefully he doesn’t get sick and he can continue to do some kind of workouts as he did before.
“He went through the protocol already, and hopefully we can get him back as soon as possible.”
The Athletic’s Brittany Ghiroli reported that after the positive test results came back, Soto, “... tested negative for COVID-19 on follow-up rapid tests,” adding even more confusion to the whole situation.
“It’s concerning that that happened,” Max Scherzer said of Soto’s positive test, after he got five innings in against the Yankees, giving up four runs in the 4-1 loss.
“Because from what we heard from him, he was just going home and coming to the field, that he really wasn’t doing anything to put himself in a position to do that.
“It just shows you how it can just happen to anybody, and why we have to follow the protocols as well as we do.
“Because we can’t control somebody from actually contracting it, our biggest concern is preventing the spread. Hopefully we were following the protocols enough to prevent any type of spread here on our team. That to me is what we have to be concerned about.”
Sean Doolittle said the news hit the team hard, after, as Scherzer noted, all the work the club did to follow the protocols, hoping it would keep everyone safe.
“It was kind of an unfortunate reminder of just how dangerous and just how you can be doing all the right things and there can still be a positive test,” Doolittle said.
“So it was — there’s just a lot going on before the game in addition to everything else that kind of surrounds Opening Day. It didn’t go the way that we wanted it to go, we hope Soto is still asymptomatic, and we’re happy that the 2020 season is underway.”
He returned to Soto later in the post game Zoom call with reporters.
“It definitely, like I said before, it was like a really harsh reminder of kind of just how tenuous this situation is, trying to play a baseball season during a pandemic that we’ve seen ... how many cases do we have in the country?
Reporter: “Four million.”
“Yeah, we just passed that today. So, it feels like we’ve done a good job these last three weeks of controlling all the things that we can control, to use a baseball analogy here.
“But, it was — we were really surprised, because guys have been really good about distancing in the clubhouse and mask wearing.
“Guys have been taking it seriously, and they bought in because they want this to work. So, it was really shocking.
“I think I’m hoping, I don’t know if I’m being naive here, but as he continues to get tested, we’re hoping that it was a false positive.
“We’re hoping that he continues to be asymptomatic, and we hope to get him back soon.”